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2018-03-03 17:30:00 CEST

Whatever, weather

Beach elite thawing out in Fort Lauderdale

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The best European beach volleyball players have swapped scarves for sunscreen at the Fort Lauderdale Major.

The opening tournament of the 2018 Beach Volleyball Major Series season in Florida has been bathed in glorious sunshine with temperatures rising to 28 degrees Celsius (80°F).

It’s a totally different story the other side of the Atlantic, with Europe gripped in the middle of a cold snap that has seen temperatures plummet to a bone-chilling minus 12 degrees Celsius (10°F).

And the European beach elite strutting their stuff on the sand on Fort Lauderdale Beach couldn’t care less. They’re experiencing goosebumps of a different kind as they battle for a share of a cool 600,000 USD in prize money.

“It’s like heaven for us coming to a place like this,” says Norwegian Anders Mol. “It’s a great way to escape the cold winter of Norway. Playing the sport we love, I couldn’t imagine a better place right now.”

The heat and humidity has, so far, not been a problem for the Europeans. Five of the eight teams competing in Saturday’s men’s quarterfinals hail from across the pond.

They include 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Robert Meeuwsen, who explained how he and teammate Alexander Brouwer prepare for the warmer conditions that they never experience back home in the Netherlands at this time of year.

“We train in Tenerife during the winter and while it’s not as warm as it is here, it’s good preparation,” says the 29-year-old. “We’re used to playing on the World Tour and traveling to places where it’s warm and humid.

“In the Netherlands it’s freezing at this time of year so all of my friends are a little jealous seeing us in the sun – they’re hoping that winter is coming soon.”

For Anouk Vergé-Dépré and Joana Heidrich, the Swiss duo zipped up their coats and pretended it was winter on the Fort Lauderdale beach in what must be one of the most unique shoots in beach volleyball history.

“Obviously it’s a little bit different from Switzerland – there’s sun here!” says Heidrich. “We came here early to practice outside because we don’t get the opportunity to do so back home. It’s not been easy but we’ve learned a lot in such hot and windy conditions.”

No European team has won a gold medal on US sand since 1996 when Norwegian beach legends Björn Maaseide and Jan Kvalheim took first place at Hermosa Beach.

Björn and Jan were a huge success on the World Tour, winning 18 gold medals and competing in two Olympic Games in a career that put beach volleyball on the map in Norway.

And if the European teams want to emulate the Vikings’ unique record they should embrace the warmth says Jan.

“We were so confident in our mentality that we could deal with whatever was thrown at us: teams, weather conditions, sand conditions – anything,” reveals Kvalheim.

“In Brazil it was 35-40 degrees outside and when you walked out of the hotel it hit you. You can either say ‘wow this is too hot for us’ or you can say to yourself ‘this heat is great, in Norway it’s minus 15!’ and that was always our thinking. We always tried to be positive in our minds.”

Joana (left) showers Anouk in 'snow' Joana (left) showers Anouk in 'snow'

Whether the players in Fort Lauderdale can end Europe’s 22-year wait for a gold medal remains to be seen.

However, even if results don’t go their way on the Red Bull Beach Arena court, there’s always the consolation that they have the sun shining down on them.

“I’m blessed to be able to travel the world, play the sport I love and do so with some sun on my back,” says Mol.

As a Beach Volley Viking, he couldn’t have put it any better.

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